Chandler to stay as Senate president for rest of year

  • Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, speaks Nov. 29, 2017 to the editorial board at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton.

  • Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler will assume the post through the rest of the year, Senate Democrats decided Wednesday. John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via AP

Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, who stepped down as president of the state Senate in December following sexual misconduct allegations made against his husband, will not have an opportunity to regain the leadership position until 2019.

Even though investigations by the Senate Ethics Committee and a team of attorneys with the Hogan Lovells law firm have reached no conclusions regarding possible influence over Senate affairs by Rosenberg’s spouse, Bryon Hefner, Democrats on Jan. 7 decided that acting Senate President Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, should remain in the top role.

“Today, the Democratic Caucus voiced their support to continue my term through the end of the 2018 session,” Chandler said in a statement released by her office that afternoon.

Chandler, 80, reiterated that she has no desire to serve as president beyond this year.

The next election for Senate president will be on Jan. 2, the first day of the 2019 session, which is the normal course of business for the Senate.

“At tomorrow’s formal session the word ‘acting’ will be removed from the Senate President’s title, and soon I will officially be moving into the Senate President’s office and naming a new Majority Leader,” Chandler said.

Rosenberg issued a statement through his office expressing confidence in Chandler continuing to serve the Senate and the state with distinction.

“I support what’s best for the Senate and the Commonwealth, and I deeply regret the disruption that has been caused by the necessity of the investigation,” the Amherst Democrat said. “I reiterate that Bryon had no influence over my actions or decisions as Senate President, and I look forward to the completion of the investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.”

Rosenberg’s statement did not address whether he planned to run for re-election to his Senate seat in November, or if he had ruled out entirely the possibility of running for the presidency in January should he be fully exonerated.

“It’s perhaps an elegant solution, but I’m not certain it will quell all the jockeying that’s going on,” Sen. Don Humason, R-Westfield, said of the Democrats’ decision to keep Chandler as the Senate’s presiding officer.

Democratic Sens. Karen Spilka, of Ashland, Sal DiDomenico of Everett, and Eileen Donoghue, of Lowell, have publicly indicated interest in running for Senate president. Reports surfaced in recent days that Democratic Sen. Eric Lesser, of Longmeadow, also was weighing a bid. The 32-year-old Lesser represents portions of Hampden and Hampshire counties, a district which spans from Longmeadow to Belchertown. 

Lesser expressed interest in the job in a comment to the Statehouse News Service on Jan. 7. 

“I’m thinking about it. We'll follow up soon. I’m certainly considering it because I think I would have potentially a role to play in helping shape the future,” Lesser said. “For now, we fully support President Chandler, she has my 100 percent support and enthusiastic support to finish out the term, and a new year and a new session is a new opportunity to have a conversation about the future of the body."

Humason said that he thinks Lesser aims to be a bridge between the old and the new in the Statehouse. “He’s a friend of mine and we work very well together on a number of issues affecting western Massachusetts,” he said.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he looked forward to working with Chandler to pass his administration’s proposals around opioid abuse, public safety and housing. Earlier in the week, Baker said if the report about Hefner’s possible involvement in Senate affairs were true, Rosenberg should not ever return as president.

When Rosenberg left the presidency, which he had held since January 2015, he didn’t give a timeline for a possible return to leadership, though he noted it would be after the investigation is complete.

“I believe taking a leave of absence from the Senate Presidency during the investigation is in the best interest of the Senate,” he said in a statement in December. “I want to ensure that the investigation is fully independent and credible, and that anyone who wishes to come forward will feel confident that there will be no retaliation.”

The Boston Globe first reported that four men involved in state government accused Hefner of sexually assaulting and harassing them in recent years. Three men said Hefner had groped their genitals, while another said Hefner forcibly kissed him against his will, while claiming that he had influence over Senate business.

More recently, the Globe reported that Hefner may have been given access to Rosenberg’s Senate email account, his contacts and his calendar, despite Rosenberg’s earlier promise to keep a “firewall” between his professional and personal lives.

Gazette intern Christine Lytwynec of the Boston University Statehouse Program contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com